The US carried out another drone strike in Pakistan’s Taliban-controlled tribal agency of North Waziristan. The strike is the third in Pakistan in three days, and the eighth in the two weeks since the US failed to get Pakistan to reopen the supply lines for NATO forces in Afghanistan.
The remotely piloted Predators or Reapers launched a pair of missiles at a compound in the town of Mir Ali, a terrorist hub in North Waziristan, according to AFP. Fifteen “militants” were killed in the strike, Pakistani officials told the news agency.
The target of the strike and the identity of those killed is not known. Pakistani officials said that several “foreigners” were among those killed, but the report was not confirmed. The term ‘foreigners’ is used by Pakistani officials to describe Arab members of al Qaeda or members of other regional jihadist groups based in Pakistan.
“Uzbek, Tajik, and Turkmen militants fighting for the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan” were said to occupy the compound, according to The New York Times.
Abu Yahya al Libi is rumored to have been killed in today’s strike, however his death has not been confirmed. US intelligence officials told The Long War Journal that al Libi was indeed the target of the Mir Ali strike [see Threat Matrix report, Abu Yahya al Libi rumored killed in Mir Ali drone strike]
The US carried out two other strikes this weekend; both took place near Wana in South Waziristan. A Taliban commander loyal to Mullah Nazir, who has said he is a member of al Qaeda and is on good terms with the Pakistani government, was killed in the first of the two strikes.
Mir Ali is a terrorist haven
The Mir Ali area is in the sphere of influence of Abu Kasha al Iraqi, an al Qaeda leader who serves as a key link to the Taliban and supports al Qaeda’s external operations network. Taliban leader Hafiz Gul Bahadar and the Haqqani Network also operate in the Mir Ali area. Moreover, Mir Ali is a known hub for al Qaeda’s military and external operations councils.
Since Sept. 8, 2010, several Germans and Britons have been reported killed in Predator strikes in the Mir Ali area. The Europeans were members of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and its offshoot, the Islamic Jihad Group, an al Qaeda affiliate based in the vicinity of Mir Ali. The IMU and IJG members are believed to have been involved in an al Qaeda plot that targeted several major European cities and was modeled after the terror assault on the Indian city of Mumbai in 2008. The plot was orchestrated by Ilyas Kashmiri, the al Qaeda leader who was killed in a US drone strike in June 2011.
Mir Ali also hosts at least three suicide training camps for the the Fedayeen-i-Islam, an alliance between the Pakistani Taliban, the anti-Shia Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, and Jaish-e-Mohammed. In early 2011, a Fedayeen-i-Islam spokesman claimed that more than 1,000 suicide bombers have trained at three camps. One failed suicide bomber corroborated the Fedayeen spokesman’s statement, claiming that more than 350 suicide bombers trained at his camp.
For the past several years, the US has been pounding targets in the Datta Khel, Miramshah, and Mir Ali areas of North Waziristan in an effort to kill members involved in the European plot. Al Qaeda and allied terror groups such as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, the Islamic Jihad Group, the Eastern Turkistan Islamic Party, Jaish-e-Mohammed, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, and a number of Pakistani and Central and South Asian terror groups host or share camps in the region. These groups are given aid and shelter by Taliban leader Hafiz Gul Bahadar and the Haqqani Network, a Taliban subgroup run by Siraj and Jalaluddin Haqqani.
Despite the known presence of al Qaeda and other foreign groups in North Waziristan, and requests by the US that action be taken against these groups, the Pakistani military has indicated that it has no plans to take on Hafiz Gul Bahadar or the Haqqani Network. Bahadar and the Haqqanis are considered “good Taliban” by the Pakistani military establishment as they do not carry out attacks inside Pakistan.
Background on the US strikes in Pakistan
The US has carried out 21 strikes in Pakistan so far this year. Eight of those 21 strikes have taken place over the past two weeks. [For data on the strikes, see LWJ reports, Charting the data for US airstrikes in Pakistan, 2004 – 2012, and Senior al Qaeda and Taliban leaders killed in US airstrikes in Pakistan, 2004 – 2012.]
The drone program was scaled back dramatically from the end of March to the beginning of the fourth week in May. Between March 30 and May 22, the US conducted only three drones strikes in Pakistan’s tribal areas as US officials attempted to renegotiate the reopening of NATO’s supply lines, which have been closed since the end of November 2011. Pakistan closed the supply lines following the Mohmand incident in November 2011, in which US troops killed 24 Pakistani soldiers. The Pakistani soldiers were killed after they opened fire on US troops operating across the border in Kunar province, Afghanistan.
A US intelligence official involved in the drone program in the country told The Long War Journal on May 28 that the strikes would continue now that Pakistan has refused to reopen NATO’s supply lines for the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.
Two high-value targets have been killed in the strikes this year. A Jan. 11 strike killed Aslam Awan, a deputy to the leader of al Qaeda’s external operations network. The US also killed Badr Mansoor, a senior Taliban and al Qaeda leader, in a Feb. 8 strike in Miramshah’s bazaar.
The program has been scaled down from its peak in 2010, when the US conducted 117 strikes, according to data collected by The Long War Journal. In 2011, the US carried out just 64 strikes in Pakistan’s border regions.
So far this year, the US has launched more strikes in Yemen (22) against al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula than it has launched against al Qaeda and allied terror groups in Pakistan (21). In 2011, however, the US launched only 10 airstrikes in Yemen, versus 64 in Pakistan.
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.